This is the last 2022 WEP story about Altenay, the Finder – my entry for the WEP Dec 2022 challenge The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.
Altenay gripped the teacup in her cramping fingers. She was so angry her hands shook, while a peaceful teahouse swirled with its usual activities. The waiters carried trays of teas and sweets. Cigar smoke and the scents of spices mixed in the air. Around the low tables, various-sized groups talked and laughed. Only she was alone in the teahouse.
That freaking pirate had had the gull to kidnap her! She had escaped him in the bazaar and skulked around the huge metropolis for an hour before landing in this cheerful place. The scoundrel would never find her here, but his brazen effrontery still irked her.
He had stopped the coastal caravel she had taken home from one of her Finding jobs. He had demanded the caravel’s captain gave up the Finder he was carrying. Or else.
Of course, the captain had given her up, even though he apologized. Much use she had for his empty apology. He had sailed away then, the lout, leaving her alone with a shipful of cutthroats and their crazy captain. Who had then proceeded to ask her to Find him his beloved. Gah!
He didn’t have to kidnap her. He could’ve come into the front door of her office, like normal people did, and she would’ve taken his job. The accursed buccaneer!
Altenay sipped her tea and pulled out a small portrait, a little bigger than her palm, out of her satchel. She gazed at the young woman in the picture. The pretty girl stood half-turned in a doorway, her dark braids flowing down to her waist, her wide smile blazing in the sunlight.
“The first time ever I saw her face, I knew I needed to find her. I would do anything for her,” the blasted pirate had said. His weathered cheeks didn’t show any blush, not under all that beard, but his ears turned pink. “You’re a Finder. Find her for me, and I’ll pay you uncounted riches.”
Altenay winced remembering that conversation in the captain’s cabin. She remembered asking him where he got the picture. “It was loot,” he replied shamelessly and then locked her in his cabin ‘for her own safety.’
Altenay had had no choice but to comply with his wishes. She had unfurled her Finder magic, and it beckoned her to this sprawling city. Fortunately, she had been able to escape after they disembarked. The bustle of the port aided her dash for freedom.
She still had her money—the fee from her previous job. To her surprise, the deuced pirate hadn’t confiscated it. She could buy a berth on one of the coastal ships heading towards her hometown. She could wear a disguise, buy a different tubeteika in the bazaar, so the infernal pirate would never grab her again. But should she? Or should she find that woman first? Uncertain of the best course, she gazed at the portrait and munched her baklava.
Her Finder magic was clearly defined in the city, nothing like the vague dispersed yearning it had been at sea. Its pull was unmistakable, its direction unambiguous. What would she find at the end of that magic arrow? Would it be the previous owner of the painting? Or the artist who painted it? Or the girl who posed for the painting? What would she say if she did find the girl?
Altenay’s magic thrummed in her head, straining to zero in on its target, like a young hound before a hunt. Fine! She would do it. She mumbled a curse, left her unfinished tea, and stomped out of the teahouse. It wouldn’t take her much time. The razor-sharp edges of her magical pointer glinted: her quarry was close. Afterwards, she would go home.
It took her another couple hours of wandering the twisting narrow streets, mostly uphill under the scorching sun. She was hot, tired, and irritated with herself, when finally, her magic zoomed in on the door of a small white house, surrounded by orange trees.
Altenay knocked. The woman who opened the door was the same one as the painting, but older, about Altenay’s age, paler, and not smiling. Her face was not as fresh as in the painting, but still lovely. She frowned at Altenay.
“Hi,” Altenay said. “I’m a Finder. Someone asked me to Find you from this portrait.” She extracted the portrait from her satchel.
The woman stared at the portrait. “My father painted it,” she said at last. “He sold it a few years back. I didn’t think I would ever see it again. Some foreigner bought it. Why was he looking for me? If he wanted another painting by my father… He died a few months ago.” Her face crimpled momentarily, but she took a deep breath and brought herself under control.
“I don’t think it was the same person,” Altenay said. “It was a pirate.”
The woman’s eyes rounded, and her lips opened, but no sound emerged.
“I’ll tell you the whole story. Can I come in? I’m Altenay.”
“I’m Gisele.” Gisele nodded and stepped back.
After Altenay told her story, Gisele commiserated with her. “That pirate was dastardly. Kidnapping you! The bounder!”
“Yes,” Altenay agreed. “And the caravel’s captain too. Giving me to the pirates as if I was… a prize.”
“He was trying to save his ship and his other passengers.”
“I know.” Altenay sighed. She couldn’t really blame the caravel’s captain.
“Why did you seek me out after you escaped?”
“My magic likes to finish its searches.” Altenay’s lips twitched.
“Ah,” said Gisele. “It’s getting late. You should spend the night here. I’ll help you get on a ship home tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you,” Altenay said gratefully. “What are you going to do about that effing pirate? He did say he fell in love with you. He might hire another Finder. Do you have other family?”
Gisele shook her head. “I have nothing left here. Father died. My husband… is not worth talking about. He is not in the picture anymore. All I’ve left are my father’s paintings. Maybe I should seek out that pirate of yours.”
“The creep,” Altenay said with feeling.
“Yeah.” Gisele snorted. “But maybe he could change. He did say he would do anything for me. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“No. He didn’t allow any of his pirates near me. But I resent being kidnapped. On principle.”
“Sure,” Gisele said. “Maybe he would give up pirating for me and start making charter trips up and down the coast.”
Altenay sniggered. “You think?”
“I don’t know. He should pay you for kidnapping anyway. Do you want one of my father’s paintings as payment? Some of them are quite valuable. And it all happened because of me. Sort-of.”
“Maybe. I’ll look at them tomorrow morning, before I leave for the port.”
“Before we leave,” Gisele said firmly. “I’ll help you get away. You should wear my clothes, so the pirates wouldn’t recognize you. If they are still searching. After your ship sails, I might look for that jerk of a pirate. What is his barque’s name?”
“Gorgeous Girl,” Altenay said. “He said he renamed it after he got your portrait. It was Gorgeous Gorgon before.”
“Maybe he’ll rename it again, into Gorgeous Gisele,” Gisele mused.
Tagline: Kidnapped by a pirate, the Finder can’t resist the pull of her magic.